Wounded heroes brought together by a week in Breckenridge
William Garibaldi watched his children turn circles around the ice rink. Nearby, a mom guided her daughter across the ice, while two siblings high fived as they sped past each other.
Garibaldi, an Oklahoma resident, came to Breckenridge with nine other families for Family Ski Week, an annual event organized by Wounded Heroes Family Adventures. The former marine and army sergeant found out about the weeklong camp in 2012 at a Warrior Transition Unit.
“Yesterday, I made it to the sign at the top of (Peak 8),” he said. The weekend was also a treat for his wife, Lisa, and their four kids.
“They’re having fun, too,” he grinned, gesturing toward the rink.
Garibaldi finished his military service in September of 2013, following three deployments to Iraq as a heavy vehicle operator and one in Afghanistan as a sergeant with the 4th field artillery regiment. During his deployments, he communicated with his family through Skype.
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Now, he is back with his family in Oklahoma and his loyal service dog, who stays by his side. One of 200 families who applied for Family Ski Week, he said they were able to apply after his youngest daughter turned 6.
“I like the fact that it’s bringing us all closer together,” he said. “It’s hard to communicate with others that don’t know what we’re going through.”
For Family Ski Week’s ninth year, military veterans and their families had four days of downhill skiing instruction through the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, as half-day counseling sessions, and a plethora of family activities. Bryan Hartwig, an Air Force veteran who helped organize the event, said Family Ski Week was created by a group of locals looking for ways to help wounded warriors of all military branches who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They turn out to be, in some cases, permanent friendships,” Hartwig said. “I think it brings them out of their shell a little bit.”
The nonprofit has since expanded to include a summer and fall event, with the majority of proceeds going toward ski lessons, food and instructors. None of the board members collect a dime.
John Ebright, a BOEC board member and secretary for Wounded Heroes Family Adventures, is also a veteran. He served with the first infantry division in Vietnam, from 1967-68.
“A major part of the help for them is meeting families in similar situations,” Ebright said. “The spouses and children need as much help as the soldiers.”
Several local businesses have also gotten involved with the event: Grand Timber Lodge provides spaces for the families to stay, local restaurants donate food and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center provides instruction, equipment and lift tickets.
“There is no magic bullet, but there are a lot of pieces,” Ebright said. “A lot of programs just take them skiing, and that’s it.”
Thursday marked the program’s fourth day, with ice skating, a craft through BreckCreate and a day of fishing available as family activities. The families will have a final dinner together on Saturday, April 16, before departing the next day.
“The tears that flow are unbelievable,” Hartwig said.
With an April storm looming outside, Garibaldi joked that he wouldn’t mind a little snow, especially if it prolonged the trip.
“It’s just, the people that put this on, the volunteers, coordinators and everyone — they’ve put so much planning into it. I just want to tell them thank you,” he said. “It’s a great feeling, knowing there are people out there that care this much to do stuff like this.”
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